Swimming Events Guide 2024
Bristol Channel swim

Bristol Channel swim in support of Motor Neurone Disease

On 20 September Fergal Somerville became the oldest swimmer and first Irish man to swim the Bristol Channel, raising money for the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association.

On 20 September Fergal Somerville became the oldest swimmer and first Irish man to swim the Bristol Channel.

At 25 miles across, the Ilfracombe to Swansea crossing of the Bristol Channel is the longest swimming route Fergal has ever attempted. He completed the swim with a time of 15h, 35m and has raised €10,000 for the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association.

Before commencing his challenge at Ilfracombe Pier, Fergal had an unusual way of preparing himself for the swim. “For all my long swims I draw the ‘Three of Hearts’ on my chest for the thee people who mean the most to me and inspire me: my wife Mags and sons Eoin and Conor.” On his back he also drew a signpost for Wales, “to keep me on track,” as Fergal puts it.

A wild encounter

After a long swim through the night, Fergal brushed his hand past what he first thought to be plastic bags, but soon realised he was swimming alongside a pod of dolphins.

“For several minutes they darted under me in rows of three and four and sped past. When I looked at water level again I could see them jumping. They were so beautiful and graceful,” said Fergal.

While this wild encounter was a euphoric moment for Fergal, he soon found the water temperature an unexpected challenge.

“I hadn’t anticipated the cold. I was uncomfortable and my pace was slowing. By 6am I knew I couldn’t continue with the lowering body temperature,” Fergal said. “I knew a warm feed would help, and I had a coffee. I also knew that getting in the boat to end the swim would have seen me requiring sunscreen by the time I got back to Swansea. I wasn’t getting out – I kept going.”

An exhausting finish

The final stretch of his Bristol Channel swim was a punishing one for Fergal. “I had very little left. My crew mate John Daly offered me a final feed. I declined. I put my head down and charged for eight strokes and came back up for a look. I continued in this mode.”

At 3.35pm an exhausted Fergal reached Swansea, watched on by his wife Mags. “I called to her and told her I loved her,” said Fergal.

As a precaution Fergal was given a checkover at Swansea Hospital A&E after his swim, but was soon resting at home with tea and toast.

With the Bristol Channel swim under his belt, Fergal has completed the Original Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming (OTC) – the English Channel, North Channel and Bristol Channel.

Fergal’s fundraising page for the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Assocation is till open for donations. If you would like to organise your own swim across the Bristol Channel, visit the Bristol Channel Swimming Association website.

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Abi writes swimming news stories and features for the Outdoor Swimmer website and manages the social media channels. She loves to swim, run, hike and SUP close to her home in Herefordshire. While she’s a keen wild swimmer, Abi is new to the world of open water events and recently completed her first open water mile. She has previously written for The Guardian, BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC History Magazine and Ernest Journal.